Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Sunderland

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  • Both sides have scored only a single goal in their first two fixtures
  • Sunderland’s Steven Fletcher could make his 2013-14 debut after recovering from ankle ligament damage
  • Despite both teams playing in the Premier League for numerous seasons, this will be the first meeting of the pair in this competition

Sunderland head to Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace on Saturday (12:30 pm ET on NBC, watch online via NBC Sports Live Extra) as two sides struggling to score goals look to secure their first victory of the season.

Palace return home to South London after suffering their second loss in as many games after Stoke City scored twice in the second half to off-set Marouane Chamakh’s 31st minute opener. The Eagles looked as if they might be on their way to three points before two defensive break-downs in a matter of four minutes saw Charlie Adam and Ryan Shawcross beat Julian Speroni to his right post to hand the Potters their first win of the season.

Sunderland earned their first point of the season last week in a 1-1 draw at Southampton. The Black Cats came away from St. Mary’s Stadium feeling lucky after managing to hang on despite the Saints having 17 attempts on goal and dominating possession (66%/34%). Paulo Di Canio’s men found themselves with an early lead when Italian international Emanuele Giaccherini (pictured) found himself unmarked in the box to nod home Seb Larsson’s corner kick. Two minutes from time the Saints’ pressure paid off as Jose Fonte headed in James Ward-Prowse’s shaped set piece to share the spoils.

Saturday’s encounter will be the first time Palace and Sunderland meet in the Premier League. The last time the two sides met in a top-flight encounter was a March 1991 fixture that Sunderland won 2-1. The Black Cats and Eagles have faced off on 10 occasions since, with Sunderland winning five of them.

Sunderland remain a side still very much searching for their identity. Bringing in 11 new players from seven different countries presents stylistic issues as well as communicative ones. Few doubt that Di Canio has recruited solid talent in Giaccherini, Jozy Altidore, Cabral and Valentin Roberge but until the group develops a cohesive understanding of their qualities and adopts a style of play to compliment those traits, points may be hard to come by – even when facing inferior opposition. The return of striker Steven Fletcher, who has been out since last March with ankle ligament damage, could be just the thing to set things straight.

For Holloway, the issue comes down to a lack of talent. It’s something that the Palace boss bemoaned before the season, after the squad’s opening day loss to Spurs and following last week’s defeat at Stoke City. The club’s lack of resources and transfer market power appear to be what’s limiting Palace and with no buzz percolating at the moment, it doesn’t seem to be something that’s going to change before the window closes on September 2nd.

That’s not to say Holloway’s squad is completely absent of talent. Chamakh proved last week that he’s still up for scoring goals, Dwight Gayle is a forward with pace, desire and the ability to change games while the holding midfield combination of Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacoi has made life quite difficult on opposing players.

See which club might break into the win column this Saturday, at 12:30 am ET live on NBC and online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

What they’re saying

Palace manager Ian Holloway: “The team hasn’t played together before especially with players like Florian Marange coming in. It’s just important we stick together and work hard as a team. . . . We’re full of optimism and hope, but we’ve got to get some players over the line before Monday.”

Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio: [On the return of striker Steven Fletcher] “Steven will join the rest of his team-mates on the trip and then I will decide if I will play him, but he will be with the group. . . . He is an important player and joined us in full training just 10 days ago. For 25 days we were abroad during the pre-season and he couldn’t go, so it’s obvious he needs to practice. With the fitness level and the belief he has he can stay with the group and maybe have a part in the game.”

Sunderland defender John O’Shea: “It’s going to be difficult; we’re fully aware that they’ve just come up from the Championship but they’ve played quite well in their two league games so far even though they’ve not got anything from them. . . . They’ve got a manager who wants to play football the right way. We saw [in the game] against against Stoke at some stages that they can mix it and go forward quickly, but they can also pass it through midfield. There’s lots to look forward to but lots to be wary of as well.”

Prediction

If this match were being played at the Stadium of Light there’s no question Sunderland would be taking all three points. But fans saw how difficult it was for Spurs to play in Selhurst Park in opening week and we shouldn’t be surprised if a similar atmosphere presents itself this time around. Sunderland are good enough to overcome the crowd and win this match but Palace have the ability to nip a point here, and I think they get it.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.